The American Romance with the Jews, from Cotton Mather to Emma Lazarus

When Puritans settlers first arrived in New England, they brought with them a passion for the Hebrew Bible and a desire to model themselves after the ancient Israelites—and, moreover, a belief that contemporary Jews, as God’s chosen people, deserved their respect and tolerance. Michael Medved traces the various manifestations of this sentiment from English Puritans to John Adams. Perhaps the most striking example he cites is that of Ezra Stiles:

Despite [their] intense identification with ancient Israel, few Americans ever got the chance to explore either the wisdom of the past or the prospects for the future with their Jewish contemporaries. One of the exceptions was Ezra Stiles (1727–1795), the seventh president of Yale and an influential minister and scholar. Before assuming his most celebrated position in New Haven, Connecticut, he spent twenty years pastoring a major church in Newport, Rhode Island. During that time, Stiles made a point of frequent visits to the small, struggling synagogue that had managed to survive for more than a hundred years despite the lack of meaningful growth in the Jewish population.

Unlike [the earlier Massachusetts theologian] Cotton Mather, who expressed the hope that even the religious Jews he so passionately esteemed would ultimately find their way to Christianity, Stiles expected [Jews] to remain fully Jewish and became excited by visions of what Jews and Christians might achieve together. . . . In particular, Stiles believed that the ultimate “return of the twelve tribes to the Holy Land” might well occur at any time, igniting an explosion of faith that would enable believers “to convert a world.”

To Medved, the notion that the fates of America and the Jews were intertwined took on a new life, and a new meaning, when masses of European Jews began coming to the U.S. in the 1880s, inspiring the country’s best-known Jewish poet:

While establishing a truly international reputation, Emma Lazarus focused scant attention on her own Jewish heritage, but when she was thirty-one, the vicious pogroms following the assassination of the tsar sparked a passion for self-discovery. She . . . organized charitable efforts to aid the penniless Russian hordes who began washing into New York City, while . . . defending them, fiercely, from anti-Semitic taunts in the public press. Her contact with these destitute dreamers fueled her pride in the Jewish past and her visions for a grandiose future, as her poetry suddenly burned with exhortation and purpose: “Wake, Israel, wake! Recall to-day/ The glorious Maccabean rage . . .”

[One] handwritten sonnet simultaneously expressed her tenderness for the desperate new arrivals fleeing starvation and the tsar while exulting in the epochal role of America as refuge and redeemer. The Jewish view of the United States as a supernatural sanctuary in a harsh, hostile world has never been expressed more movingly or memorably.

That handwritten sonnet, of course, is “The New Colossus,” inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Read more at Commentary

More about: American Jewish History, Christian Hebraists, Emma Lazarus, Immigration, Philo-Semitism

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict